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How the rural communities affected by the drought are rising from the dust

The drought is far from over, but for Ash Miles and her family in Trangie, there has been some positive change to come from the most challenging time.

For the last 10 years, Ash Miles has lived in Trangie, a farming town in country New South Wales, 75km west of Dubbo.

Growing up in nearby town Coonamble, Ash jokes that she’s still considered “new” to Trangie by its locals, most of whom belong to families that have lived and worked in the area for generations.

But despite her “newness” to the community, Ash has lived and breathed farming all her life. A fourth generation farmer, her family own property in Nyngan (an area further west of Dubbo), as well as near the Queensland and Victorian borders.

“As a family we’re well spread and experiencing different aspects of the drought,” she says. “It makes for some interesting comparisons but we all feel like we’re in a challenging environment at the moment.”

Challenging is an understatement. The last time Ash’s property received rain was at the beginning of November, however it was not much. This year the region has received 160ml for the year, which falls significantly short of its annual average of 590-600ml.

After spending time in hospitality and retail jobs growing up, Ash was pulled back to agriculture.

“It’s a wholesome, honest and truthful way of life, and I wanted that not only for myself but for my kids.”

Ash’s husband grew up in Scone in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley region. His family recently celebrated its 150th anniversary of working within the agriculture industry.

“Agriculture is often a slow-moving industry,” says Ash. “It’s very sustainable but often slow moving, and 150 years is an awfully long time.”

It may be slow-moving at times, but it can also be agile and innovative, especially in times of struggle.

“Farmers are the traditional entrepreneurs. We’re keen problem solvers and we like to fix and create new things and overcome challenges. We thrive on the challenge. I think that is an asset that all farmers and rural people in general bring to the table.

“I’m amazed at my husband’s constant ability to find off-farm income and tighten up budgets; amazed at the local community who run events like local swim club and local barbecues to help everyone communicate. I’m constantly impressed with how strong the rural community is — it’s very resilient.

“It’s tough, but we’re all in it together. We have adapted and become a better and more connected community; much more connected than we were before the drought.”

It’s this strong sense of community and commitment to agriculture that spurred Ash on to start developing her online platform called The Training Paddock, which tracks the credentials (formal and informal) of those working in the agriculture industry to allow businesses to transparently place people in appropriate positions.

“It will make sure people are working in a safe and productive way, and that they come home at the end of the day to their families,” she says.

“It’s an important industry and one that Australia really needs to value. It’s sustainable and valuable, both environmentally and economically, and we need to protect it.”

Reflecting on the year, Ash says it’s been exceptionally challenging, really rewarding and very grounding.

“This year, we’ve had to consider everything from how our business is going to run to where we’re going to seek alternatives and then we don’t know what next year is going to bring. But I’m really, really ultimately thankful for my community and my family.”

How you can help those affected by the drought:

  • Donate to CommBank’s Christmas Drought Appeal. Every dollar from this fund will directly support Rural Aid and the Australian Red Cross and the vital work they are doing to support Aussie farmers and communities impacted by drought and other disasters. You can make donations via the CommBank app until Christmas Day. “People are more connected to rural communities and understand people living there and how agriculture works and how drought affects it. Opening that communication and really challenging how we buy and where we choose to place our money is the real benefit of these campaigns,” says Ash.

  • Spend time in rural communities. “If anyone is travelling and you can go through a small town, and you can stop and have lunch, or buy from the local shops, it helps.”

  • Stop and chat. “We love talking about agriculture, we love talking about what we do, we love talking about how we produce it — so please, go and have a conversation with a farmer!”

  • Spread the word. “Ultimately, we just want people to understand that even though it’s quite challenging at the moment, they’re still really great places to see, so if you’re travelling through rural Australia and having a great time, post about it.”

  • #BuyFromTheBush. If you can’t make it out a rural community before Christmas, check out the great local produce and products for sale from bush businesses. You can find them on Instagram (@buyfromthebush) or online.

To help improve your financial wellbeing, please visit financiallyfitfemales.com.au. Proud partner, CommBank. Always consider your personal circumstances before acting on financial advice

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